The Other Side of Fear

I’m still trying to figure out how to fit everything into my ridiculously busy life, so please forgive my falling behind on things like blogging and responding to comments. I’m going to try to keep up, but I have a feeling that this is going to be an exceptionally busy year for me. There’s just so much to do!

Tonight’s blog post was inspired by a couple of things. The first was a quotation posted by the wonderful writer Jonathan Carroll:

“Everything that you want is on the other side of fear.”

The second was an exchange on Facebook: one of my Facebook friends said that surely, with my accomplishments, I no longer had fears. I told him that I had plenty! And the third was a conversation I had this week with a friend who is thinking about whether or not to go to graduate school. She’s in the middle of dealing with her own fears.

I actually posted the quotation over my desk, on my cork board. It’s written on a sticky.

It’s right under the stickies that say “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”, which I originally read on Terri Windling‘s blog, and “Do what I do: hold tight and pretend it’s a plan.” That one I attribute to the Doctor. (If you don’t know who that is, you may not be sufficiently nerdy to read this blog!) I think it goes very well with both of them. Terri’s asks you to think about what you would do if you weren’t afraid of what might happen: it asks you to imagine. The Doctor’s tells you how to get there: hold tight, pretend it’s a plan, and go! And the one I just pinned up says, what you want is on the other side. It’s a promise.

I have done many things in my life, and they have taken a certain amount of courage. Even writing this blog takes a certain amount of courage, because what if people disagree, what if they take offense? After all, I wrote yesterday that J.K. Rowling was not a writer. She is an instinctive storyteller, and I have a great deal of respect for her, and for her intellect: I read her graduation speech at Harvard, and she is a smart, wonderful woman. But I have not seen her wrestling with the act of writing itself, the way I see Le Guin doing it. The way people who are writers to their core wrestle with their craft. She might become one: we’ll see what her adult novel is like. Who knows.

But I think I’ve created a life for myself that involves constantly overcoming fear. After all, three days a week I stand up in front of college students and try to both inform and entertain them. I send my work out there, to be either accepted or rejected. I am constantly out in the world doing things, despite the fact that I’m a fairly intense introvert. I’m perfectly happy sitting in a room by myself and reading for most of a day. And I am, like many writers, thin-skinned. I hate conflict and criticism.

The secret is that I also need the fear. I know that if I’m not doing something that scares me, at least a little, I’m not really living. What I told my friend was, you and I are the sorts of people who need to stare into the abyss. We’re not happy unless we’re pushing ourselves, unless we’re testing our own limits. I certainly do that in my writing.

So I like the quotation: what I want is on the other side. Life is not about overcoming fear, but about being afraid and doing what you want anyway. About using the fear to let you know that what you’re doing is worthwhile. After all, anything worth doing is difficult.

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4 thoughts on “The Other Side of Fear

  1. Such magnificent quotes, so inspiring. I’d like to be able to hold true to them, I definitely already follow the doctor on planing.

  2. Poet Ted Hughes once wrote in a letter to his son:

    “The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all. It was a saying about noble figures in old Irish poems—he would give his hawk to any man that asked for it, yet he loved his hawk better than men nowadays love their bride of tomorrow. He would mourn a dog with more grief than men nowadays mourn their fathers.

    “And that’s how we measure out our real respect for people—by the degree of feeling they can register, the voltage of life they can carry and tolerate—and enjoy. End of sermon. As Buddha says: live like a mighty river. And as the old Greeks said: live as though all your ancestors were living again through you.”

    The full letter is here:

    http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/09/live-like-mighty-river.html

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